Inner Explorations: The Story


Inner Explorations is a complex and extensive website, but its fundamental structure is quite simple, and grew first out of our personal experiences. We hope that the story of how that happened will make it easier for you to navigate the website and use its resources to go on your own inner journeys.

Spiritual Awakening

Jim. My life truly began one summer’s day in New York. I had turned 17, graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, lost in a vast sea of boys studying science and mathematics, and was headed off to college on a scholarship to study physics. But I was asleep. Now I came back to my summer job selling soft ice cream at a concession on the boardwalk on Rockaway Beach, and a new girl arrived to work there. During that summer I fell in love with her, and struggled to reach out to her. But while this was happening, I felt compelled to ask myself why I was so deeply attracted to her, and I asked that question over and over again. Was it because of how she looked, or what she said and did? I sensed that it went beyond that, and slowly I began to perceive that I was drawn to her by the very fact that she existed. It was as if she was illuminated from within by a light that irresistibly attracted me to her. But this light was not her personal possession. She did not know how lovable she was by being bathed in that light that came from somewhere else.

After a while it began to dawn on me that this kind of musing sounded something like religion, but it was not any religion I knew. I had grown up Catholic, lost in another sea of people, this time parishioners at Sunday Mass, but it had never been very personal. How could it have been, if I was still asleep? But loving this girl was very personal, and yet paradoxically, the most real thing about her was that light that came from somewhere else. If she was lovable, what must that light be like? By some strange quirk of fate, this all unfolded right on the ocean close to where my mother had been born in the long-gone Oriental Hotel.

This initial experience opened up two roads for me. One went in the direction of trying to understand the intimate structure of things and their relationship to the light. This was the road of metaphysics, and it was to be a number of years before I was in a position to travel down it. The other road presented in an immediate pressing and often painful way the question of faith. If this light truly existed, and must somehow be personal and loving to be the source of the lovableness I found in my friend, then was it possible to enter into a loving relationship with the light? And what would happen if I took the Jesus of my childhood Catholicism seriously as an embodiment of that light?

My first years in college were consumed with this question, and I soon saw that studying science was not for me. I finally made an act of faith. I would go off to church to pray during the day, and was alone there except for the old pastor reaching the end of his life. I wanted to travel down these interior roads, and so I asked myself who would know about them? Surely, I thought, priests must know about these kinds of things, and I decided to join a religious order and become a priest. I spent a year studying Latin in a novitiate-like setting, and then spent the next year in the actual novitiate of the order. These were in the days when the Second Vatican Council had just begun, and the novitiate was carried out in the old style of religious life.

The life of the novitiate was filled with obligatory religious exercises: meditation and Mass, the recitation of the Divine Office in common, and on and on. Study was restricted, and the whole atmosphere said that holiness came through conforming our will to the will of God. The question then became, how do we know the will of God? And the answer put forward, but never formally reflected upon, was that we knew the will of God because it was expressed in the teaching of the Church, the pronouncements of the Pope and Bishops, the directives of the General of the Order and his Provincial, and the commands of our local superior. In essence, we discovered the will of God, and conformed ourselves to it, by obedience to our religious superiors. By the end of the novitiate I was beginning to have questions about this, but I was still happy to go forward and take my temporary religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. During the time of preparation for the profession of these vows, while I was pondering what they meant, I asked myself if we, no matter what our calling in life was, had to love God as much as possible, then what could the vows add to this? I saw that the answer must somehow lie in the distinction between obligations that flowed from our very natures as human beings, and the concrete state we find ourselves in. Our natures remained the same, but the state they were in could change. This was the seed of what I was later to call existential morality.

I arrived at my first year of philosophy with a deep thirst to study metaphysics, but what was presented was a dry as dust neo-scholasticism arranged in syllogisms out of a Latin manual that was to make my fellow students gnash their teeth and learn to hate Thomism. But it didn’t bother me because I paid little attention to it. While they were in their rooms studying, I would go off to the basement classroom, put Beethoven on the record player, and plunge into real philosophy, for I had discovered Jacques Maritain, and I was reading his masterpiece The Degrees of Knowledge: To Distinguish in order to Unite. Not that I understood it, but I understood that the failure came from me, and not from him. I slowly began to realize that my experience of the light was not really very different from the concrete approaches to what Maritain called the intuition of being, an insight into how the limited being of things points to the fullness of existence that is their source. It was this type of insight that was at the heart of Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of our metaphysical knowledge of God. Maritain became for me the gateway to a living metaphysical wisdom tradition that stretched back some 700 years to St. Thomas, himself, and had its roots in the Christian, Islamic and Greek philosophers who had preceded him.

Many years later Norris Clarke, the Jesuit philosopher, came to visit us in the forest, and in the course of our metaphysical discussions he asked me how I came to be on the road that I have traveled. I told him in a few words about my initial metaphysical awakening, and he immediately recalled the words of Thomas Aquinas, which I had never heard before, in his Expositio in Librum de Causis:

"Each and every thing is known by that which is in act, and therefore the very actuality of a thing is like a light within it (quasi lumen, or, quoddam lumen ipsius). So all creatures are shining, lit up (lucentia) but not the light itself (ipsa lux) which is only God as the pure act of existing itself."

This was not metaphysics as an academic subject, a kind of distillation of the history of philosophy, but rather, was rooted in the living fire of being.

I finished the course in philosophy, and went on to study theology. By now the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council were making themselves strongly felt within the Order, and I couldn’t fail to notice the difference between the old program of studies and the new. But my focus was primarily on my own inner journey, and it was at the house of Theology where I met another student whose name was Joseph who had undergone an extraordinary conversion that had brought him to Catholicism, and then to religious life, with whom I could finally discuss my deepest spiritual interests. What was happening in the classroom became the backdrop to our own endless conversations as we walked up and down the long driveway of the extensive grounds, and tried to work out the nature of the act of faith and its relationship to theology.

My own perception of theology had already been strongly influenced by a book I had discovered while studying philosophy. It was Emile Mersch’s The Theology of the Mystical Body, and it gave me a sense of a theology that rested on a deep contemplation of the central Christian mysteries. This was a theology meant to illuminate and to nourish faith, itself.

I had started studying theology when debates about contraception filled the air. It was an issue I had never thought about, and began to study the question myself, but soon reached an impasse which I could not overcome until I remembered the insight from the novitiate about existential morality. This seemed to me to provide the key that could open the way to resolving the debate. I wrote up these thoughts and made some attempts to make them known, but nothing came of it.

In the classroom things were not nearly as interesting. The old theological manuals, akin to the old philosophical ones I had studied, had been swept away. That suited me just fine, but the resulting vacuum had to be filled with something, and quickly, and the nearest thing at hand was academic religious studies. This meant creating a kind of smorgasbord of theological views, but how they fit together receded into the background, and what connection they had with the life of faith was obscured. It was easy enough to assimilate the material and repeat it for exams, but it was spiritually unsatisfying.

Another part of my private studies with Joseph had to do with Christian mysticism as presented by Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Mysticism for them was not a matter of visions or revelations, but a realization that at the heart of faith was a loving relationship with God that was meant to grow in the life of prayer, and in some people flower in an actual experience of union with God.

My own life of prayer had followed a rather common trajectory. The initial pain and upheaval of trying to come to faith had been slowly transformed, if not into light, then a comfortable kind of darkness with its own sense of certitude and direction, and at times a feeling of consolation. But this sense of consolation faded away over time. Now I was reading John of the Cross describing three signs by which we can know whether we are traveling from ordinary prayer, that is, the kind of prayer we can do ourselves, to contemplation, which is a gift of God. The first sign was that we could not pray like we did before, and the second was that we had no desire to fix our attention on other things. Well, it seemed to me that both these things were true in my own case, and so I eagerly read about the third sign, which was waiting upon God with a loving attentiveness. What could that mean? I read one of St. John’s modern commentators who said that this loving attentiveness was an active exercise in which we reached out and rested in God in an act of faith and love, and somehow in the midst of the darkness in which this act took place, contemplation was present. So this was what I tried to do. But when I talked this over with Joseph, he was emphatic that this was not what John of the Cross meant. Instead, John was talking about an infused contemplation, an actual experience of God’s presence. I saw that this was true, and so a door opened to what was going to be a long journey to try to understand how St. John’s teaching had become misunderstood.

Both Joseph and I were becoming increasingly restless in religious life. I began to reflect about its nature, and the questions that it raised starting from the novitiate. While I could certainly accept that our holiness was a matter of our will being in conformity with the will of God – not that I was inclined to put it in that kind of language, but rather to say that our goal was union with God – the heart of the matter centered on how we discover God’s will for us. The way the answer was presented, that we discover it by being obedient to God’s representatives, seemed much too external. Did my religious superiors actually know best, and if they didn’t, did God supply for their lacks so we couldn’t go wrong doing what they said? What about following our own insights and conscience? Looking to others seemed to foster a certain kind of psychological and spiritual immaturity. Religious life was like a mixture of genuine faith and human institutions with the lines between them not nearly drawn fine enough. I began to feel more confined, and dreamed of wandering the world. Both Joseph and I left religious life before our ordination to the priesthood, and soon found ourselves on retreat, camping in the sand dunes of the central California coast, and going on other adventures. Leaving religious life was not traumatic. I felt I was simply pursuing the same path that had brought me there in the first place, and was now leading me elsewhere.

I never regretted having a ringside seat to the vast changes set off in the church by the Second Vatican Council. The world of the pre-conciliar church had been like a pot filled with hot milk. As long as the lid was pressed down firmly from above, everything stayed in its place and looked orderly. But as soon as the lid was taken off at the time of the Council, the milk began to boil over. The faith of many people had been closely intertwined with the life of the institutional church, and when this outer pressure was released, they not only rid themselves of the old oppressive institutional forms, but unfortunately sometimes seemed to lose faith, itself.

Encounter with the Unconscious

Ten years after my initial experience, on another summer’s day, I was talking to a girl named Tyra and my life was about to change again. She had traveled a spiritual road much like my own, growing up Catholic and undergoing a deep conversion.

A few months previously I had come across a copy of C.G. Jung’s Psychological Types in the Fordham University library. This is a massive and bewildering volume in which Jung holds forth as things as divergent as the philosophical debate on universals and transubstantiation. But it was also a distillation of his personal and clinical experiences of human differences, and some of his remarks struck a responsive chord in me. I began to read other things by him. Then I had a thought. I had cared deeply for some women, but somehow things had never worked out as I had hoped. What would happen, I asked myself, if I used the things that I was learning from Jung?

So Tyra and I went for a walk, and I tried to explain to her Jung’s ideas about the animus and anima, and projection. Some date! Not long after she told me a dream which I listened to much like dreams are often listened to, that is, as rather bizarre stories with no real relevance. In the dream she was in the second floor of a building looking out, and seeing a girl she knew superficially who was on the first floor of a building next door. This girl was painting a picture of the top half of a circle. Inside the circle were six men dressed in medieval costumes, and each one, with piercing blue eyes, were staring at the arc of the circle near them. As soon as she mentioned the six men, she captured my deep attention. I had read what seemed to me an obscure footnote in Jung that a woman’s animus could be symbolized by a group of male figures. I knew that Tyra knew nothing about Jung beyond the little I had told her, and here she was having a dream about the animus. At that moment I realized that the unconscious was not some theory that Jung had dreamed up. It was real.

But I wasn’t smart enough to ask what the dream really meant. Why, for example, was half of the circle missing? It was in this way that Tyra and I embarked on what Jung called a night sea journey into the unconscious, but without the usual safeguard of having some knowledgeable person to guide us. We simply had no knowledge of these kinds of things. We were to go on and spend countless hours working with our dreams and memories, and triggering a flood of images and emotions that at times threatened to sweep us off our feet. This flood eventually diminished, and we saw that our personalities which we had thought stopped at the boundaries of the ego actually stretched into the world of the unconscious, which teemed with creatures both fascinating and frightening.

Throughout this whole process our interest in Jung’s typology grew. We had discovered that for Jung typology was not simply some way to classify the differences between people, but it was a compass by which a person could discern his or her own particular road that led to greater psychological wholeness and integration. Jung’s psychology became an integral part of our lives, we became deeply attached to each other, and were married in the mission of San Diego de Alcalá in San Diego.

We knew from experience that Jung was a pioneer in exploring the very real world of the unconscious, and we had profited greatly from him. But Jung had said a great deal about Christianity, as well, and as Christians we couldn’t avoid looking at what he had said. We were now both Catholics and Jungians, and so a dialogue between the two inside us was inevitable. We saw that he was looking at Christianity from the perspective of his own psychology. For him it was another storehouse of symbols that could be examined in the light of the process of individuation. But we saw, as well, that Jung really wasn’t a Christian. He didn’t imagine that philosophy or faith had their own distinctive ways of knowing, and therefore could enter into a dialogue with his psychology as equals.

Turning East

We had had an interest in eastern religions, reading D.T. Suzuki and other people, but it had remained theoretical. Then – probably during our years of living in San Diego where our two children were born – we came across a copy of Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen which told the story of Yatsutani Roshi’s teachings and his interviews with his students and their accounts of their enlightenment experiences. This made Zen come alive for us as something you could do, and we began to sit on our own. In the years that followed we were to go on some extended retreats. One took place while we were camping on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. We took turns. One day one of us would meditate, and the next have fun playing with the kids on the beach.

But our interest in Zen developed against the background of our attraction to metaphysics and mysticism. We couldn’t help feeling that there was a deep affinity, despite the great differences involved, between Zen and the metaphysics of St. Thomas. I struggled to understand an essay in French I found by Maritain called "Natural Mysticism and the Void," and our Zen sitting was colored by what we called the practice of Is, a taste of the very isness of things.

The Forest

These kinds of inner explorations fascinated us, and we wanted time to devote ourselves to them. Working in an office in San Diego to pay the bills was not going to do it, and we began to dream of a life that would be more compatible with these inner journeys, and this dream was eventually to bring us here to the middle of a forest in Oregon.

The Inner Nature of Faith tells the story of my initial experience and how it led to faith and an understanding of the act of faith, itself, and its relationship to theology.

Mind Aflame explored the life and work of Emile Mersch.

Is There a Solution to the Catholic Debate on Contraception? applied the idea of an existential morality that made a distinction between nature and state to the question of birth control.

In part of St. John of the Cross & Dr. C.G. Jung and more completely From St. John of the Cross to Us I explored what John meant by contemplation, and how that was misunderstood over the centuries.

On the metaphysical side of things, God, Zen and the Intuition of Being tried to present in its initial chapters the living insight that is at the heart of metaphysics, while Mysticism, Metaphysics & Maritain explored the evolution of Maritain’s own thought, and the documentary, The Man Who Loved Wisdom, was our way of paying tribute to Maritain by telling the story of his life and visiting the places where he had lived it out.

In Tracking the Elusive Human, Vol. 1 and Tracking the Elusive Human, Vol. 2 we present Jung’s psychological types as an expression of the journey towards wholeness, and complement them with William Sheldon’s body types.

St. John of the Cross & Dr. C.G. Jung and Jungian & Catholic? explore the relationship between Jung’s psychology and his ideas on Christianity, and Christian mysticism, theology and philosophy.

God, Zen and the Intuition of Being and Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue bring Eastern enlightenment into relationship with the metaphysics of St. Thomas.

Parts of Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue and Can Christians Still Believe? argue that however much the Church as an instituion needs to be reformed, it cannot be done at the price of losing sight of the essentials of faith.

We tell the story of moving to the forest in The Treasures of Simple Living.

For more about our story, go to "Personal Postscripts" at the end of The Church, the Council and the Unconscious.